I had originally thought I would build the kontrabas nyckelharpa using new wood, and spent some time on the web finding suppliers, especially local ones. However I eventually drew a blank locally (though found one later in Bristol – see a later article on making the top).

An alternative suggested itself though – we had an old piano (Collard and Collard from the 1920s) that used to belong to my grandmother – indeed, it’s the one that was bought for my father, who was a great pianist and church organist, to learn on. We moved it to Edinburgh after her death, and used it for a while, but in recent years it had become very difficult to keep in tune, and one of the bass strings was broken. I discovered that no-one wants such ityems these days, and it would have cost a small fortune to get someone to take it away and dispose of it – these old pianos are very heavy!

So I decided to dismantle it myself, and recycle it into a kontrabas nyckelharpa. There’s some excellent wood in an old piano like this!

First of all, it was easy to take most of the front off – everything was screwed together, no glue. I then took all the strings off (to get rid of all that dangerous tension!) and took out all the tuning pegs – that was a long job, each one had to be twisted and pulled out.

It’s when I got to this stage that the fun started.

old piano keys off

The cast iron frame for the strings was screwed to the structure and the soundboard – but I couldn’t remove all the screws as some were obstructed by the base. The back is also very solid, with no obvious was of taking it to bits!

piano back

So I got the help of our neighbour to lay the thing on its back, so I could remove the base and get at the remaining screws holding the string frame in place. Once those were out I could lift the frame, and saw through it with a hacksaw at the three narrowest bits. The frame was then in two parts, and I could lift each one, and transport it to the local recycling place in the car.

on its back

That left the soundboard still firmly attached to the frame – actually glued on. So it was a case of getting out the power saw and sawing it out. The sound board is of nice quality spruce (?), made from butt jointed boards about 100mm wide (variable) and up to about 9mm thick. The string bridges are unfortunately also glued on to the sound board, but there were still large enough areas to cut out pieces for a nyckelharpa top. (Twice, as it happened – fortunately!)


Here’s the back frame after removal of the sound board. The big baulks of softwood were not completely clear of knots, but there were enough clear pieces to put together the body of my new instrument.


Here is the wood from my dismantled piano – a fine collection of softwood and hardwood, giving plenty possibilities for all the parts of my new instrument.